A man’s domain or a woman’s realm?

Publicerat 16 Jan, 2006

”It is doubtful whether women should be entitled to their own social life outside the home,“ says Imam Abd al Haqq Kielan, formerly known as Leif Karlsson.
”In Sweden there are laws against discrimination and oppression. They should apply irrespective of religion,“ says Maria Rashidi, an activist in the Association for Women’s Rights.

 "Fulfilling oneself is an illusion" – Muslim view of women.

”I don’t understand Sweden and its laws. It’s OK for homosexuals to marry each other, but it is not permitted to have four wives. I find it extremely difficult to understand the concept of same-sex marriages.“
Leif Larsson took the name Abd al Haqq Kielan thirty years ago, and he is now a Muslim imam. He is also chairperson of the Swedish Islamic Association. He believes that one of his most important tasks is to integrate Islam into Swedish society.

Loosely translated, Abd al Haqq Kielan means ”humble servant of the truth“. A Muslim imam performs roughly the same functions as a Christian priest; he officiates at marriages and funerals, leads the congregation in prayer and acts as an adviser.

We greet each other without shaking hands; a Muslim man never greets a woman by taking her hand. Nevertheless, Abd al Haqq Kielan is unassuming and friendly. He is very accommodating and more than willing to answer my questions – with two exceptions. When I ask him about various women’s organisations that work for women’s rights in society he says that he is not aware of them, or that "I don’t want to think in print".

We meet in the association’s modest offices on the ground floor of an apartment block in a typical housing area in rsta, just south of Stockholm. The door is protected by a solid, black wrought-iron gate. A small decal in a window proclaims that the Swedish Islamic Academy also has its premises here.

One of my main questions is whether Imam Abd al Haqq accepts the secularised society we have in Sweden today, with a democratic form of government in which religion plays a subordinate role?
He quotes himself from the anthology Minaret (2003): "Sweden is a secular country; we have to accept this… There is room for us all, and we must stick together in society. What keeps us together is the fact that we are all Swedes, here and now. But as long as we fail to fully realise that we are in fact Swedes we will not shoulder our responsibilities to the extent that we should ..."
”I have nothing against society, but it tries to break us when we strive for the right to exercise our religion,“ he says later. ”This is a right that we are guaranteed by the UN Declaration on Human Rights.“

What does Imam Abd al Haqq Kielan think about women who want to work and find fulfilment in a profession?
”Fulfilment in this sense is an illusion,“ he says without hesitation. ”Life is not about having a job and earning money. The purpose of life is to worship God. If the aim is to provide financial security then it’s OK if a woman wants to work. According to Islam, a woman’s wages are hers to dispose of as she wishes. But a Muslim woman has nothing against not working if she is a strong believer. The men go out to toil and moil while the women take care of the home,“ says Abd al Haqq emphatically.

”How do you see the future with regard to Muslim women and their chances of becoming integrated into Swedish society and working life?“
”It would be good if more members of our group could get an education but there are no resources for this in Swedish society at the moment, the funds available are "a drop in the ocean",“ answers Abd al Haqq with a smile. ”There should be some form of tax relief so that we ourselves can take care of this and improve the situation of Muslim women. It is to the advantage of the men if the women are educated as the children will also benefit if their mother has a good general education. But it is the parents who should arrange for a woman’s education before she gets married.“ 

”What are your views on equality between men and women?“
”Men and women have different roles, but are equal before God. Women are equal to men in Islam. The home has been a woman’s territory since the 600s and she is the one who decides here. Statistics show that Swedish women take care of the home too.“ 

”What is the role of the woman in the family?“
”Her role is not primarily to please the man, although she should wear fine clothes under the rather drab outer coverings,“ he says with a smile. The woman should take care of the family in every way apart from providing for it. That is the man’s responsibility. Islamic marriage is not based on love. How can you fall in love when a woman always lowers her gaze when she meets a man?“ he says with a laugh. 
”Men and women cannot assess each other sexually either,“ continues Abd al Haqq Kielan. ”A woman is not entitled to marry on her own initiative, it is her father, her brother or another male relative who decides who she should marry, but love can often arise within a marriage.“

Imam Abd al Haqq Kielan believes that it is the role of the man to provide for his family and to give the family a safe and secure life in accordance with Islam. He should pay for the education of his daughters as well as of his sons. When selecting a wife, the choice is made using the similarity principle, which means that the potential partners should have as many similarities as possible in to strengthen their respective positions. A woman thus has the right to continue living the kind of life she had before the marriage; if she lived a life of luxury than she should not be expected to marry a street-sweeper.

Abd al Haqq Kielan is a convert to Islam, but he has not managed to get his daughters to adopt the faith. He would have liked to be able to select their husbands for them.
”Unfortunately, there is not much I can do about them now. My daughters run their own, Swedish lives,“ he says resignedly. ”But even if I could choose for them it would be difficult, it is not easy to find good men.“
”Are you saying that they have a free choice?“
”You can’t stop people doing what they want to do in Swedish society. We can’t chain people up, that’s not what we want.“
”Let’s assume that they were Muslims but still chose husbands who are not Muslims, how would you react then?“
”Negatively, that would mean that they had chosen to leave Islam and we would lose contact. There would automatically be a barrier between us,“ he says, and raises his hands to emphasise what he means.

”What do you think about your daughters getting an education and working after they get married?“
”It is positive if they can support themselves and contribute to their upkeep. But Islam says that it is the responsibility of the man to hire a wet- nurse and even a maid. The mistress of the house is not forced to do the daily housekeeping, as the children are her sole responsibility; the rest is done by the servants. Islam says that it is the man who pays. But a woman can work and her husband cannot prevent her.“

”Do you personally think that it is important for immigrant Muslim women to learn Swedish?“
”Yes, otherwise they will not be able to maintain contact with their children. Today, a lot of immigrant women can speak better Swedish than their husbands.“
”Do you think that this can be a threat to the family in any way?“
”No, not to Islam. But it may be a threat to certain family structures, where the system is based on keeping the women as slaves. Men in such families don’t read the Koran and don’t know what it means,“ he says shaking his head and glancing at a corner of the room where the walls are covered in oriental carpets to make way for the next prayer session. 

”You say that chaining women down and treating them like slaves are not acceptable, but what do you feel about a woman’s right to her own social life outside the home?“
”It’s doubtful. If a woman wants to visit her Muslim women friends than that’s OK, but if the man says no then no means no,“ says Abd al Haqq Kielan sharply.

”Earlier today I visited a mosque and I wondered why the women have to sit at the back?“ ”There is no difference in value between men and women but a Muslim man must protect himself from distractions in various ways. This is why women pray at the back of the mosque. A man cannot kneel down and pray with a woman in front of him.
”But then the women are behind and can see you,“ I say innocently.
”Women are not as tempted by the sight of a man,“ he answers firmly.

”What happens if a Muslim woman commits adultery?“
”That is a very serious offence!“
”Is it equally serious if a man commits adultery?“
”According to the Law of Moses, adultery is punishable by death by stoning for both the sexes, but there have to be four witnesses who have seen everything, and everything means all the details. The severe punishment indicates how seriously we Muslims take this, but it is of course difficult to prove anything under the conditions stated in the law,“ he says. He adds that it is very rare for anyone to be caught in this way.

”Islam permits a man to have four wives; does this mean in principle that he cannot commit adultery?“
”It is adultery if a man has relations with a woman apart from these four. But I don’t understand Sweden and its laws. It is OK for homosexuals to marry each other, but it is not permitted to have four wives. I find it extremely difficult to understand the concept of same-sex marriages.“

”Is it true that if a Muslim man wants a divorce, all he has to do is say "I want a divorce" three times?“ I ask sceptically.
”Yes, that’s right,“ says Abd al Haqq, ”but the man then becomes liable to pay the woman a dowry. If it is the woman who wants to get divorced then she has to refrain from the dowry.“

Finally, we discuss the controversial issue of the veil and the imam says that he does not want to judge women who choose not to wear the veil.

”We understand those women who don’t want to wear the veil; we know how society is today. The veil is not accepted and this is broadcast far and wide on the television news and in other parts of the media every day, all of which increases the attacks on us. Wearing the veil is a Muslim act and it is a sin not to wear it. However, if society forces women not to use the veil then it becomes easier to understand why they are prepared to sacrifice wearing it,“ says Imam Abd al Haqq Kielan. ”The veil is a necessity in Islam, but we don’t judge the girls.“

Susanne Scheibe


  Helena Sidenvall
helena.sidenvall@gmail.com

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